FCC seeks to fine Viacom, NBCU, ESPN for a combined $1.9MN

Michelle Clancy | 04-03-2014

The FCC is proposing $1.9 million in fines against Viacom, NBCUniversal and ESPN for allegedly using advertising audio that could be conflated with Emergency Alert System (EAS) tones.

The EAS is a national public warning system that requires broadcasters, cable television operators, wireless cable operators, wireline video service providers, satellite digital audio radio service providers and direct broadcast satellite providers to supply the communications capability to the President of the United States to address the American public during a national emergency. US citizens are familiar with the distinctive two-alarm that the system employs thanks to weekly broadcast tests.

According to an FCC notice issued Monday, the media giants violated its EAS rules when they ran an ad last year for the theatrical release of Olympus Has Fallen.

"We find that the companies apparently committed multiple violations of the Act and the commission's rules by transmitting or causing the transmission of the EAS Tones in the absence of an actual emergency or authorised test of the EAS," the FCC noted. "The prohibition on such transmissions has been in place for many years and clearly applies to the companies' actions."

Viacom faces the lion's share of the damage: a $1.2 million penalty for running ads on MTV, Comedy Central, BET and other cable networks. But the FCC has also proposed levies of $530,000 on NBCUniversal for running the ads on USA, SyFy and other NBCU networks; and $280,000 on ESPN.